With our busy and chaotic lives, how lovely is it to come together with family and friends to have a sociable lunch or dinner, taking time out to connect, communicate and relax? It seems breakfast has also become a social occasion for many folk – meeting at a local coffee shop to start the day, who can resist the smell of bacon cooking? Food brings people together and is not only good for our nutritional state but unknowingly, supports our mental health too as we take time to talk, listen and come together. We underestimate the importance of mealtimes.

How many of us love to look through a recipe book and plan to cook a sweet treat or bake something – recipes that perhaps evoke memories from our past? We can cook whatever we want for a meal and can chose, maybe according to our mood, the weather, occasion, or time of year.

We create the mealtime experience as part of our daily routine and this is something we perhaps take for granted just how important it is in our day, for so many reasons. For those living in care settings, these moments are even more important to bring people together, but all too often it is such a busy time of the day, this can become just another task to be completed. Planning the meal, preparing the food and the table are all meaningful activities that can make a difference, especially for those living with dementia. But it doesn’t stop there – sitting down together and sharing the meal promotes togetherness, enjoyment, conversation, laughter and supports well-being. It is widely recognised that mealtimes are important events for both physical and social well-being. (Heikkilä et al 2022)

Imagine a mealtime at home where food is prepared and placed in front of you with no atmosphere, no choice or conversation – just silence whilst you eat, no sauces available to compliment your food or preference, the portion size is decided for you, too little or too much, then the plates are cleared away and everyone leaves the room?  How dull would that meal be, and would you want to come back for more?

I have been able to observe many mealtimes and seen both extremes from completely task orientated with zero atmosphere and no choice, through to a room filled with the smell of cooking, conversations, music, laughter and a very relaxed atmosphere and nobody was in a hurry to leave. What a contrast and I think it would have been an interesting study to compare the nutritional status of those people. My feeling is there would have been a marked difference.  

It has been recognised that the environment is a crucial factor that can have an impact upon people with dementia in terms of improving their quality of life. This can also be true of the dining environment. It has been suggested that a dining environment that is welcoming, relaxing and comfortable has the potential to increase food intake and social interaction, which can make the eating/feeding experience more enjoyable and thereby minimise eating/feeding difficulties in people with dementia living in care homes (Stone 2014)

We need to make mealtimes a meaningful event in the day, from the planning to the preparation and then sharing it together around a table filled with colour, happiness and conversation. We can promote independence with serving dishes and accessible condiments, a relaxing, calm atmosphere and music playing.

Simple changes can make a huge difference to people’s lives. Mealtimes are an opportunity to create something truly enjoyable and involve everyone. So be it cup of tea and a piece of cake, or a full menu providing choice, spending time together creates special moments.  How can we take more time to create more meaningful mealtimes both at home and at work, with family, friends and those we love and care for?

Associate Nurse Consultant, MCM


Kristiina Heikkilä PhD , Stefan Andersson PhD, Erika Lagerbielke, Carina Persson PhD, Anna Sandgren PhD, Carina Werkander Harstäde PhD; Mealtime interventions and their outcomes in care homes for older people considering the five aspects meal model: An integrative review. Geriatric Nursing Volume 47, September–October 2022, Pages 171-182

Louisa Stone; End of Life Journal, 2014, Vol 4, No 1; Clinical Practice Development

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